As China further gets trapped under autocratic rule, its ability to reverse the incorrect and disastrous decisions being made by its top leaders will fall drastically. Though on paper China seems to be growing, there is something much more sinister afoot. Big obstacles such as an ageing population and the current stifling rule will hamper its progress.
Though China is currently celebrating the USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, thinking it has lost the war, it is not making an obvious implication. The US’ pulling out is going to allow it to solely focus on China. It has actually saved its resources for war with China. Hence, the Chinese euphoria will be short-lived. The US will refocus and conserve American power and prevail against China even as the latter attempts to rule the world. The US-China competition has less to do with conflicting ideology (though it does play a part) and much more to do with a familiar clash with between a champion and a challenger.
This is exactly why China cannot afford a war with India. Not only will it be beaten blue and black, its dream to compete with the US will get crushed to dust. It’s not difficult to understand that though China may be able to close a few gaps with the US, it will never be able to surpass it. Of course, China would still remain a geopolitical threat to the entire world order.
America too has risen to the occasion and has adopted a strategy to prevent China’s rise. The strategy is that of economic decoupling. This has made big changes to global supply chains that now favour the US. The tech war has also ensured China doesn’t receive the knowhow of critical technologies. There’s no doubt these measures are efficient. Huawei, which was poised to be a leader in 5G tech, has been banned from many countries and is now on its knees begging. Of course, the strategy needs more prongs, or else it could fall flat.
China may tout its GDP, but the truth is that its per capita income is 1/6th of the American standard of living. Its GDP is only 70% that of America. Of course, this means that China still has a lot of room to grow in, but it is not clear whether it will be able to step up to the task.
China is ready with its counters too. When it realised that the US could cut off the supply of latest technology, it vowed to make huge investments in science and technology to reduce its vulnerability. It is a far distant dream. However, with millions of well-trained scientists and talented engineers, and trillions of dollars in R&D investment in the coming decade, China should be able to gain greater technological capabilities. Even if China is able to surpass the US in terms of GDP, its per capita income would still be only 1/4 of the USA’s.
A country four times as rich as its closest geo-political foe, in effect, has more spare cash to invest in military forces and R&D. It should have the means to stay ahead of the game, if we assume that American leaders have the necessary political will and unity.
What is more, China is ageing faster than America. The UN estimated that in 2040, the median age in China will be 46 years, compared with 41 for the US. As a result, China’s growth is expected to slow down in the 2030s. Hence, in other areas of power, America’s lead will prove insurmountable. It will continue to have the world’s best research universities, most innovative technology firms and most efficient financial markets.
The CCP itself is the biggest obstacle in China’s race with the United States. The party’s fear of losing power will impel it to maintain a stronger grip on the country, making every process less efficient. State owned enterprises, without accountability will continue to waste resources. The CCP’s arbitrary exercise of power —as seen by its sweeping crackdown on China’s most successful tech companies, such as Didi and Alibaba— will stifle the innovation and growth of its tech sector more effectively than America’s sanctions.
Additionally, China has no real allies. Of course, it does have loyal pets like Pakistan. Moreover, the country is surrounded by powerful enemies like India and Japan. On the contrary, this is not the case with the US. China is far weaker than most people know.
- Sani Thompson is an international affairs analyst based in Abuja
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